The internet likes to crap on Ready Player One, the pop-culture-reference laden tale of the ultimate MMORPG quest to literally own the internet. People look back on that book with dripping distain, calling it out for toxic nerd culture, gate-keeping fandoms, and glorifying having an encyclopediac knowledge of useless movie references. But I really enjoyed it! It made me laugh, referenced a bunch of silly crap that I like, and it entertained me for a few hours. I didn’t see the harm. Hell, I even enjoyed the movie! So I was very excited to read Ready Player Two – the next chapter in Parzival’s quest.
The opening chapters are pitch perfect – telling the dull banality of what happens when you actually get what you want in life. Wade (AKA Parzival) won the quest in the first novel, thus inheriting The Oasis – an enormous online universe where most members of the troubled real world choose to spend their time. While the real world is ravaged by poverty, disease, and climate collapse, people don their haptic suits and immerse themselves in the world of Oasis. It’s a giant video game, lovingly created by James Halliday and his friend Ogden Morrow. In the first novel, Halliday dies and a quest begins to take over The Oasis. Whomever finds the three keys wins Halliday’s Easter Egg, his considerable fortune, and the controlling interest in his billion-dollar company. The key to winning was to be an obsessive fan of Halliday – love whatever he loved, memorise all his favourite things, and follow the clues to the Egg. The ‘bad guy’ in the first novel was Nolan Sorrento, the CEO of a competing company who wanted to win the Egg at all costs so that he could commercialise The Oasis even more.
Now, Parzival has everything he ever dreamed of… and it sucks. He and his girlfriend broke up, his friends (and co-owners) are now too busy to play with him as they make their own mark on the world and forge new relationships, and he is trolled and criticised online. Sure, his avatar is all-powerful and his mansion is sprawling, but he’s alone and miserable. This was my favourite part of the book. The harsh reality of life and the realisation that getting what you want can suck.
So does Parzival work his way out of this by becoming a better person? Nope, not really. A new Easter Egg challenge unfolds around him with high stakes and intense responsibility. The new tech he unleashed on the world is now biting everyone in the butt and he has to complete another nerdy quest in the nick of time to save the day. Friends are reunited and everything is forgiven. Sigh.
The nerd quest this time is focussed on the films of John Hughes, Prince fandom, an obscure arcade game, and Middle Earth lore (not LOTR or Hobbit lore – hardcore Arda lore) and I’m just not overly enamoured with those choices. Perhaps that influenced my disappointment with the novel too much, but I got so bored on Prince-world that I actually skipped whole paragraphs of text (a first for me). Some new characters were kinda introduced, and a villain sorta returned, but neither of these facts added much and felt like tokenistic acts of sequel lip service. The aspects of the story that honed in on the risks of new technology were well constructed, but the quest itself was just …. Blah.
Overall, this is just a re-tread of Ready Player One and a bit of a letdown. I wish it took more than nerd knowledge to save the day this time… I wish Parzival’s quest had been a little more mundane… Because real life problems need real life solutions, and Ready Player Two felt like a missed opportunity to examine that uncomfortable truth.
2 counterfit game relics out of 5.